Ethics commission requests social media fixes in campaign finance reports

The executive director of the Kansas Governmental Ethics Commission on Wednesday asked the Legislature to consider enacting measures to modernize the state campaign finance reporting requirements. 

Mark Skoglund, in his first committee presentation since taking over the post from the retired Carol Williams, gave the commission’s 2017 annual report to the Senate Ethics, Education and Local Government Committee. The report included four recommendations to the Legislature for possible action: 

First, to consider amending state law requiring a statement of “paid for” or “sponsored by” the name of a political campaign’s chairman or treasurer. The law currently exempts social media communications of 200 characters or less (Twitter). In September, Twitter increased the maximum character limit to 280 characters as part of a trial before increasing the character limit for all users. Skoglund asked the committee to consider whether the law should be updated to reflect the increased character count. 

Second, Skoglund noted that compliance with the “paid for” law is difficult when candidates are using social media platforms like Facebook that don’t feature a footer-type format to note the required disclosures. Rather, the notifications are often “sequestered behind a series of tabs and easily missed.” 

“The Commission believes that the rigid formats of certain websites or other internet communications make appending the required attributions problematic or impossible,” Skoglund said. “The Commission believes the Legislature should consider methods to require open and obvious attribution on social media platforms.” 

Third, the commission asked the panel to consider amending the law prohibiting contribution of “moneys” from one candidate to another unless as reimbursement for costs for a shared event. This would possibly permit one candidate to make purchases for another campaign and provide the goods or services as an in-kind contribution. “The Commission believes the Legislature should consider whether the statute should prohibit contributions transferring from one campaign to another rather than solely moneys,” Skoglund said. 

Finally, the commission noted that candidates often have difficulty filing campaign finance reports that include media buys because they are required to note the stations that aired the ad along with the air date. “When specifically discussing the purchase of advertisements for radio or television, the commission believes the benefit of this transparency may be marginal compared to the excess burden candidates face in providing the detail,” the report said. “The Commission believes the Legislature should consider whether the statute should be adjusted for this purpose without compromising other reporting obligations under this section.” 

Committee Chair Elaine Bowers, R-Concordia, noted that Facebook campaign ads were problematic for some political candidates in recent campaign cycles and thanked Skoglund for his recommendations. 

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